Qurantine’s only partly over, but protest season is off and running

2 junio
On June 2, the day after the national quarantine ended, the labor protests began. FRENADESO photo by Jean Fuente.

“The new normal”

by Eric Jackson

Last week one of the guys who claims land across from me came by to cut down the woods he claims under one of Varela’s titles.

He did not personally do any cutting. He stood around watching while guys carrying tanks on their backs sprayed herbicide all around, then he set others to work with machetes in the area that had just been sprayed. No protective clothing as he chopped No building permit or environmental permit posted either. That night one of the cats and one of dogs – each the senior of their species in this household – barfed up their dinners. The next morning I got out of bed and could stand only with great difficulty. I was dizzy and staggering like a drunk, with none of the warm alcohol buzz.

I got their drift. I asked a neighbor and he said that in his household nobody felt it like I did. Took a couple of days to restore my usual maladroit balance.

Welcome to the new normal. The epidemic is far from over, but the economic and social wars have begun. Below, see some scenes from how that’s unfolding:

On June 10 there were three relatively small but socially significant protests, by different sorts of people for different reason. Above, people both annoyed by corruption and wanting and end to the quarantine in Panama City set out from ATLAPA on a motorcade that was supposed to end at the presidential palace. The police stopped them on Avenida Balboa in front of the Hotel Miramar, and detained those drivers who were on the streets in violation of quarantine.
Below, a very modest pot banging / lights out protest, significant most of all because a co-sponsor was AMOACSS, the largest of Panama’s doctors’ unions, which bargains for those who work for the Social Security Fund.
Also that day, the establishment press issued a broadside at a judge who essentially banned reporting about a lawyer said to have boasted of undue influence on the Supreme Court.

In the little more than a week between the first labor rally outside the Ministry of Labor Development and the June 10 protests, there were demonstrations by fishers at Panama City’s Mercado de Mariscos; angry pronouncements by UCOC, the union  representing Panama Canal tug skippers over what they say are degraded health and safety conditions; and street demonstrations by Seguro Social workers against a plan to privatize the call center at the Social Security Fund.

Court challenges have been filed, and there is some middle class anger, about the curfew that was brought back in Panama and Panama Oeste provinces. Organized labor, however, mostly supports the health measure and demands adequate food relief during its duration.

There are tripartite labor / management / labor ministry talks about what to do about suspended labor contracts. Those are at an impasse.

Since April, the Nurses Association of Panama has been asking, and is now demanding, information about the numbers of their colleagues who have become ill with COVID-19. Those data have not been forthcoming. Meanwhile, COVID-19 cases coming into the hospitals are spiking again.


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